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Making TV: Shooting Homeland

David Klein used a gritty and raw style to shoot season three of Showtime’s Homeland.

By Michael Fickes

Before beginning work on season three of Homeland, cinematographer David Klein, ASC, asked the show’s executive producer and writer, Alex Gansa, “Who do I answer to about the look of the show?”

Making TV-Homeland
Brody’s execution
Making TV-Homeland
David Klein sets up for a scene set in Caracas. A Puerto Rican location doubled for the Venezuelan capital.

Gansa replied: “You answer to yourself.”

“I think that was the best thing he could have said to me,” Klein recalled. “It was terrifying.”

With that in mind, Klein set about creating a look for the third season. He decided to shoot with three cameras. He chose ARRI Alexas as the A and B cameras, and the Red EPIC as the C camera. He likes the EPIC for its manageable size and weight. “Once you know each camera, you can expose them in a way that matches the final color perfectly,” he says.

The lens package includes Cooke S4s and Canon Cinema zooms.

Thinking about a lensing strategy, Klein planned to let the story dictate the look.

The three seasons of Homeland tell the story of Nicholas Brody, a marine sergeant rescued after spending eight years imprisoned by terrorists in Iraq. Brody returns home a hero, only to reveal himself by the end of season one as a terrorist pawn who had given in to torture. In season two, Brody tries to reform, but fails and finds himself framed for the bombing of CIA headquarters. In season three, he redeems himself by carrying out an assassination for the CIA, for which he is executed.

Lensed by award winning cinematographer Nelson Cragg, season two seemed dark, brooding and ominous. Indoors, Cragg relied on natural sunlight from the windows and light from lamps used in the scene. Indoor scenes often were dark and shadowed, especially in enclosed rooms. Outside, the look used natural daylight with occasional flares. At night outside, ambient lighting from the scene lit the scenes.

After discussions with Gansa and Director Lesli Linka Glatter, Klein decided to maintain that look for his first two episodes. “After that, I would let the story dictate the look as I had originally planned,” Klein said.

Klein describes the look he created and refined throughout season three as gritty and raw.

What’s that?

“To me, it is natural,” Klein said. “I want it to feel like we walked into the place and rolled the camera with no artificial lighting whatsoever. Now, I don’t do that. I never shoot without lighting, but I want it to look that way.”

He creates his signature look using one big source and numerous smaller sources, configuring them so the combination becomes the key light or fill light.

“When multiple sources combine to become one source, you see all the sources in the actors’ eyes when they look in the direction of the lighting,” Klein said. “Then there are Claire and Damian [Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison and Damian Lewis plays Nicholas Brody]. Their four eyes pick up eye light like I’ve never seen before.”

Klein used that to help characterize Brody and Carrie. Brody begins season three imprisoned in Caracas, Venezuela, where he has – through no fault of his own – become a heroin addict. He recovers and begins to train for his mission. As his strength returns, his eyes glow.

Carrie, who is bipolar, moves from crazed eyes to intelligent sparkling eyes and back throughout season three.

Claire Danes is beautiful, but Klein did not hesitate to rough her up when her character’s emotional condition called for it. “I asked Claire if she had concerns about lighting,” Klein said. “She said, ‘I don’t know what you guys do, but I appreciate it when you’re good at it.’ So when she was beaten down in the script, I made her look that way. She wasn’t afraid of that.”

On reflection, the authenticity in the cinematography and the acting may be what enables Homeland – with its unlikely plot – to come across as plausible and compelling.

March 13, 2014